Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt urged North Korea on Thursday to
shed its self-imposed isolation and allow its citizens to use the
Internet or risk staying behind economically, after seeing the tightly
controlled country on a private visit.
Schmidt joined former New
Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson in a delegation that also urged North Korea
to put a moratorium on missile launches and nuclear tests that have
prompted U.N. sanctions and sought fair treatment for a detained
American citizen there.
"As the world is becoming increasingly
connected, their decision to be virtually isolated is very much going to
affect their physical world, their economic growth and so forth,"
Schmidt told reporters at the Beijing airport after returning from the
four-day trip. "It will make it harder for them to catch up
economically. We made that alternative very, very clear.
government has to do something. It has to make it possible for the
people to use the Internet. It is their choice now. It's in my view time
for them to start or else they will remain behind."
trip, which was not sanctioned by the U.S. government, has been
criticized for appearing to hijack U.S. diplomacy and boost Pyongyang's
profile after North Korea's widely condemned rocket launch to put a
satellite into space last month.
Schmidt has been a vocal
proponent of Internet freedom and openness and is publishing a book in
April with Jared Cohen, director of the company's Google Ideas think
tank, about the power of global connectivity in transforming people's
lives, policies and politics.
Cohen doesn't typically accompany
Schmidt on Google-sanctioned trips, and his inclusion in the delegation
was a sign that the two men may have been primarily interested in
gathering more material for their book.
The delegation toured
technology facilities in North Korea, where most people have access only
to a computer intranet that does not connect with the World Wide Web,
and met with students and North Korean officials.
Department has criticized the trip as "unhelpful" at a time when the
U.S. is rallying support for U.N. Security Council action against
Pyongyang. Schmidt advised President Barack Obama during his 2008
election campaign and was once considered a potential candidate for a
Cabinet-level appointment. Schmidt has repeatedly said that he has no
plans to leave Google for a government job.
spokesman Peter Velasco said earlier from Washington that he did not
believe the delegation had been in contact with U.S. officials since
they arrived in Pyongyang.